Tag Archives: science

DoubleBlind

Nature’s newest secrets

The academic journal Nature is introducing double-blind peer review. This means that when a paper is being checked for accuracy, the reviewers won’t know who wrote it.

Papers are the main way researchers tell everyone about their work, and peer review is the process by which the journal chooses if the paper should be published. The reviewers are chosen by the journal, and are usually other scientists who do similar work to the stuff in the paper. Continue reading

Hefele

Duet Yourself – the science of polyphonic overtone singing

When most people praise the quality of a duet, they expect to be congratulating two people. But, as a video that’s gone viral this week has proved, that assumption need not always hold true. In just over eight days German singer Anna-Maria Hefele has racked up 4 million views on YouTube by demonstrating her phenomenal ability to sing two separate melodies at the same time.

Hefele’s performance is an example of polyphonic overtone singing, a technique which allows her to produce two distinct notes in perfect harmony.The lower of the two is generated by the vibrations of vocal folds in the larynx: the same process as occurs in everyday speech. This sound wave is said to have a fundamental frequency, as it has the longest wavelength that will fit inside the resonant cavity formed by the speaker’s mouth and throat.

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NYTblue

Nobody ever said dyeing was easy

As anyone who has ever attempted to buy wallpaper with a loved one will know, colours are notoriously difficult to define. One man’s Burgundy is close enough to another woman’s Maroon for Red to be a dangerously ambiguous catch-all term.

But what if more were at stake when choosing colours than marital happiness. What if the choice of one particular shade of blue over another constituted a religious sin. And – as if that weren’t bad enough – what if nobody had actually set eyes on the colour in question since the days of Ancient Rome.

This chromatic grey area is not a hypothetical situation. The disappearance of the colour t’khelet (pronounced with a properly phlegm-filled ‘kh’, if you please) was a pressing question in Jewish theology for well over a millennium. It took generations of rabbis, dye-makers and chemists to bring the dye back from the dead, and in the process explain just how it was that the Jews first got the blues.

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In the Old Testament’s Book of Numbers (chapter 15, verse 38), the Lord tells Moses to instruct the Children of Israel to “make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations, and affix a thread of t’khelet on the fringe of each corner.”

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DocWho

The science at the end of the Whoniverse

Yes that’s right, Doctor Who is back on our screens, spitting himself out of dinosaurs’ mouths and into our hearts where he belongs. On this week’s episode, the first of Series 8, a homicidal android is stalking the streets of Victorian London, mutilating golden-hearted cockneys for their fleshier organs and turning the remains into donor kebabs in order to conceal the evidence of his crimes.

Slap bang into the middle of this mess lands the Tardis, lodged inside the throat of an exceptionally irritable tyrannosaur. Trapped on board are the wide-eyed Clara Oswald and the new and improved Time Lord Peter Capaldi – whose saurian features make the aforementioned reptile look positively cuddly.

The Doctor’s arrival is greeted with a clash of symbols.

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LUTN no text

Looking up Tycho’s nose

This week I decided to look up Tycho Brahe’s nose. After all, it is the title of our blog. And as you’d expect when looking up someone’s nose, you come across a fair amount of useless gunk. But keep poking around for long enough and those itchy fingers start uncovering some really fascinating nuggets.

The first thing everyone knows about Brahe – even before they know what he looks like or even how to pronounce his name – is that he had a gold prosthetic nose. Now I don’t know about you, but that strikes me as rude. It’s also mistaken, incidentally, but more than anything else it’s rude. So here’s a picture of Tycho Brahe (Brah, Bra-hay or Bra-hee, depending on how wrong you mind being) for you to look at while you think about just how rude you’ve been.

Why doesn't anyone remember those moustaches?!

Forget the nose – why doesn’t anyone remember those moustaches?!

Brahe’s original nose (not shown in the above) was cut off to spite his face by a fellow Dane named Manderup Parsberg while the two were students at the University of Rostock in Northern Germany. Many have claimed the duel was inspired by a mathematical disagreement, which is a cute story, but Tycho seems like the sort of person who would have challenged you to a duel if you looked the wrong way at his moose (don’t worry, we’ll come back to the moose).

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